Hometown: Paducah, KY
Current Job: Application Developer/Analyst with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
PhD Program: PhD in Computational Science: Computer Science
Why did you choose UTC CECS?
Initially I went to TTU for athletics, but transferred to UTC as I felt it was a better fit for me in athletics. But what made me decide to stay for a Masters and a PhD was absolutely the professors. I really enjoyed how available the professors were and always willing discuss different topics of interest. Initially I took Dr. Kandah's Computer Networking course and I really enjoyed the topic so I went into office hours to discuss what careers would look like so I could look into it further. But in our discussions, he started talking about some of his research areas and I thought it was really interesting, so he had me read a few research papers and look into some of the tasks that he was working on in his research and the rest is history.
What is your career ambition and how is the MS/PhD program helping you get there?
I always wanted to be a teacher, but I really had a desire to go into technology because it was always a hobby of mine, so I decided to pursue a degree in computer science. But after working on numerous research projects I've discovered my passion is identifying a problem and designing a brand new solution from the ground up. The best part is, by working on a PhD I will be better able to pursue a career in academia such that I will not only be able to continue working on research in my own area, but I will also be able to teach at a university level.
What have you liked about the MS/PhD program?
I really like how tight of a community our program is. I had a close group of friends who I met in my undergraduate degree at UTC, and we all decided to pursue a Masters. But not only that, any time we were in a graduate level course it's as though we were all great friends. If we had never met or talked before we would introduce ourselves the first day and we would all collaborate and just generally have each other's backs.
Did you take any online courses?
Numerous. I was always a big fan of online courses, especially the asynchronous courses as I worked full time throughout my Masters and continued into my PhD. I personally would rather sit in my own space on my own time and go over the materials and do the required work. I just felt as though it was a lot more efficient, and I am a big proponent of a good work life balance. But, even throughout COVID our synchronous courses have become a great source of discussion and group work. I have found that it is often much more student driven and allows for us to teach each other and come to an understanding together.
What opportunities have you had during your degree to gain other skills?
I actually obtained my full-time job via an internship at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee thanks to the career fair that UTC put on during my undergraduate degree. I was able to meet a lot of good organizations and had several interviews, so the career fair did wonders for me in helping with finding jobs. But I was also a part of a few different groups. I was the captain of UTC's cross country team, a member of a few different clubs such as MocSec, ACM, and CompUTC. But by far working on research improved my skills more than anything else.
Have you had support from CECS faculty/staff?
One of my favorite parts about UTC is the staff. Without Dr. Kandah I would not be where I am today; he has helped me each step along the way and has always offered support. Another is Dr. Skjellum. He always offers the best advice and really asks the thought-provoking questions to make sure that you consider every possibility and think about how a proposed solution might be impacted by a certain event. I also want to include Dr. Ward, he has some of the most fun classes and really offers the most hands-on experience which is invaluable.
How has the program helped you?
When I got started at BCBST during my 3rd year of undergrad, I realized how little I knew. But as I started working through my Masters while working, I started realizing how I could write faster and more efficient code. But not only code writing, obtaining a Masters opened the doors for me to see the broader areas of computer science and would definitely allow me to transfer to a different career position. Luckily, I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD shortly after starting my Masters, but if I had decided to just pursue a life-long career I believe this program prepared me for pursuing any area that I wanted.
What has been the best part of your experience?
Without a doubt it is the people. Between the students, the faculty, and the staff, UTC has been a great place. I'm glad I have been able to earn my degrees here in such a great learning environment.